Working For UPS: A Day in the World of Brown

Saving time begins with the keys. My guide for the day, Barron Brooks, has been delivering packages for UPS for the past twenty-seven years, and knows a thing or two about saving time. It takes two seconds to put your keys in your pocket, he tells me, and another three seconds to take them out. For each of the day’s one hundred and sixty stops that adds up to almost an extra fifteen minutes. This is precious time that could be spent getting packages to their destination sooner.

As the country’s third largest employer, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, UPS is the world’s largest package delivery provider. They deliver over 15 million packages a day, with 225,000 of them being delivered in the Bay Area. Add to that the 135,000 daily pick-ups around the city and it is no surprise that every second counts. For the 400,000 employees worldwide, of which 4,500 are based in the Bay Area, the safety-efficiency mantra has become second nature.

The attention to detail extends to every level of the job description. UPS started in the niche of providing office delivery services and its commitment to looking professional still exists today. Moustaches must be neatly trimmed and one pair of stud earrings is the maximum allowed while on duty. Above all, UPS pays the greatest attention to safety. A rigorous month-long training session for new employees includes both written knowledge tests about the lengthy list of safety regulations and a driving test on a confidence course. Drivers who have completed twenty-five years of service without a single accident, such as Brooks, are inducted into the prestigious Circle of Honor. Currently a total of 4,451 employees have received this distinction.

Once a service provider is hired, the true test of efficiency comes into play. The most important skill for this job is one that is barely teachable: visual mapping. The ability to mentally plan out the most efficient route is crucial—and a driver must keep in mind that the most efficient route might actually have a longer geographic distance. Delivering packages on time requires a driver be good at seeing the routes in terms of lefts and rights, pulling in and backing out, and locating easy-to-cross intersections. At one on of our office stops there is no one at the desk to sign for the delivery. While walking back to the truck Brooks’ normally chatty demeanor disappears momentarily as he re-thinks his day to accommodate coming back to the same stop. Luckily we find an employee just as we are walking out the door and Brooks visibly relaxes, “Now we won’t be going out of ‘trace’ ” he says.

For all that it demands of its employees, UPS returns the favor. Drivers can earn top union scale wages, up to $70,000 a year, and senior drivers receive up to nine weeks of paid vacation a year. Health insurance premiums are completely paid for and are a part of an overall wellness package that looks after the health needs unique to delivering heavy packages and interacting with the public all day long. This includes flu shots and trucks built to lesson the pressure on knees and lower backs.

There are so very few jobs like this one that is hard to find a comparison. One thing is for sure, this is not a desk job. Physical fitness in terms of both strength and stamina is certainly a pre-requisite. Friendliness, multi-tasking, and the ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment are also required. Think of it as a real-life video game, complete with a gaming console (those high-tech clipboards, called DIADs, that track every package). This is a job for someone who thrives off of all three phases of getting a job done: planning, adapting, and executing. Brooks demonstrates this with pride as we get ready to deliver the ‘rezzies’ (residential deliveries). He stands at the back of the truck and recites, flawlessly, the address for each package on each of three shelves in the order that we will deliver them.

The day after my foray into UPS my aching calves and I walk out my front door to find a UPS envelope waiting for me in exactly the place it should be—out of sight and out of weather, but visible to the customer. I smile to myself imagining how the entire scene played out—a brown-uniformed delivery person walks briskly carrying the envelope under their arm. All the while they are punching the keys on the DIAD indicating where the package was left. On their return back to the van, they type in the next address and as they mount the steps of the van the keys are already swinging from their finger to be ready to slide directly into the ignition.

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